Interview - Tsoanelo Pholo
Tsoanelo Pholo: Hockey5s can have a big impact on smaller countries
Tsoanelo Pholo was the head coach of the South Africa women’s team that claimed a 4th place finish in the Hockey5s competition at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018. In this special interview, Pholo, a former South African international who represented her country at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games as well as both the outdoor (Madrid 2006) and indoor (Vienna 2007) World Cup competitions, discusses her involvement in Hockey5s, her memories of Buenos Aires and the important role that this short-form version of the game has to play in the global development of our sport.
Hi Pholo, thanks so much for talking to us. Tell us about your how you became involved in Hockey5s in South Africa.
Pholo: “It was the year of the Youth Olympics in 2018. We were at a tournament, and I was talking to one of [competing] schools’ junior high-performance directors. He said, ‘listen, I want you to apply for this job, I think you’d be great with the under-18s - there is an African Youth Championships, and would you be interested?’. I was like, ‘of course I would!’. As a heads up, he told me it was Hockey5s. I’d never done 5s before, so as you do in the hockey community, you reach out. I got some video clips from the previous Youth Olympics and had some stuff from a very good friend of mine in Austria, who took the under-16 boys to their Continental Championship. He sent me a lot of stuff, we had a conversation and I started building my mind around what I saw Hockey5s as.”
As a coach, what do you enjoy so much about Hockey5s?
Pholo: “Well, the speed. The speed is really incredible, and also the principles that it teaches the youngsters right now. Obviously, we are looking forward to building the sport up to all age groups, but it is easier to teach principles and close space skills with the youth when there is something to play for. They love small-sided games, and this is a small-sided game with an actual outcome, great competition and global competition. I really love that about it, that it excites the kids. As long as they are smiling, they are learning.”
You were head coach of the South Africa women’s team that competed at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018. Can you tell us about that experience in Argentina?
Pholo: “You know, the big thing about the Olympic Games, and having a Youth Olympic Games especially, is that we don’t really get to be at a multi-sport event, especially at under-18 level. Making this a global multi-sport event – we had 3-on-3 basketball, breakdancing, things that the kids really love – the best part, apart from the hockey, was seeing how all the nations interacted in the Athletes Village. The Athletes Village was really something special, as we will hopefully be seeing special scenes in Tokyo later this year. But the camaraderie and learning about different cultures, the whole experience was for the players was something very special.
“On the field, wow! For players of that age to be playing at that level, playing at a global event, was really something new for all of them. I think that they took it in their stride.”
The Hockey5s competition in Buenos Aires was a real hit. How did you find the hockey competition itself as well as the fan experience?
“Firstly, playing hockey in Argentina is an experience of a lifetime. It was great to go back there. I’d almost forgotten what the atmosphere is like with Argentines watching hockey. They really love it. So, for the players, it was incredible to hear this buzz in the stadium. They [the fans] had taken us under their wing a little bit, they really enjoyed the way we were playing and that we competed hard. The competition was really tight, as was the men’s competition – I think it was Ghana who also produced some upsets in getting out of the group stages. Looking at countries like Vanuatu being at an Olympic Games. I didn’t know there was a country called Vanuatu! But we got to compete against them, and that is special. I know that that group of young ladies, and the group of young men, from that small island, they are going to keep playing hockey for the rest of their lives. They have this fairy-tale story to tell their children and their grandkids.
“Hockey-wise, it was really great. I think for the first time as a coach we never really hailed [questioned] the umpires. The umpiring was really great. It’s difficult for them as well because of how quick it is, but I think the umpiring was really outstanding and we saw some special kids in that event. I think one or two of them, or hopefully more, will be in the Tokyo Olympic Games this year.”
Finally, how do you think Hockey5s is helping the growth of hockey, both in Africa and around the world?
Pholo: “Like I said, for a country like Vanuatu to be at the [Youth] Olympic Games, that is something special. It shows what Hockey5s can do, as an initiator into hockey, and as a developer into the full field version. We all play on artificial turfs now, and they are not the cheapest option. But if you have a Hockey5s court in three or four places in the country, I’m telling you now, we are going to have way more hockey players in developing countries. That will mean better competition going forward, which can only bode well for our sport. The more global we get hockey to be, and the more accessible hockey is for ‘third world’ countries, I think we can look forward to having bigger competition and having hockey in every single country in the world. That is a dream of the FIH, to ensure that we touch as many lives as we can with hockey, because hockey has given me and so many others so much, and I would love to see that opportunity be given to many other people, especially youth. Thinking about developing countries, you might want the kids to be off the street. You see, I’d rather have them on a Hockey5s court than loitering in the street. I think it is going to grow massively in the smaller countries. I think that is exactly what Hockey5s is about, and it should be.”